Red House, 2 Elystan Street, London


The American invasion of London continues. It seems only yesterday that Keith McNally opened a simulacrum of his New York brasserie Balthazar, to reviews that found the food pedestrian. The Shake Shack burger franchise will soon explode upon Covent Garden, along with the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co in the Trocadero, Piccadilly, while the hip New York hotelier André Balazs will open a new joint with a fancy grill in Marylebone. Soon you won't be able to move in London for luxuriantly-priced USDA steaks, seafood platters and ingenious deployments of quinoa.

The latest Stateside chef to arrive is John De Lucie, a founding chef at the deeply-admired Waverly Inn (co-owned by Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter) in Manhattan's West Village. He's taken on the Markham Inn, located in a lovely Chelsea square, and re-opened it as "a New York-style bistro with some English influences".

The décor is resplendently ersatz, as if several photo-shoot styles have been picked from a catalogue and bolted together. There's the Gentleman's Club look (button-back banquette, portraits of old soldiers), the Ale House look (wooden floors and tables, leather-and-nail chairs), the Ship's Cabin look (dark wood panelling, dome to the stars) and the Royal Society look (ancient maps, 18th-century drawings of air balloons). It's very butch and masculine.

My wife, who has an eye for these things, noticed the maître d' was wearing slim-leg chinos rather than the baggy ones. "This place," she said, "is the skinny-leg chino of London restaurants. Strenuously cool and young." The clientele fitted her description. A quartet of groovy young things flirted and brayed like the cast of Made in Chelsea. Nearby, a loving couple interrupted their conversation every 10 minutes to give each other an urgent tongue sandwich, like mid-course palate-cleansers.

The menu revealed that Manhattan restaurateurs have odd notions about what constitutes supper. Instead of bread, they give you a homemade scone: fine at teatime, not at dinner. Among the starters was acacia honeycomb with hazelnuts and toast. Toast and honey to begin with, guaranteeing you won't eat anything else? An alternative was a plate of 'farmstead English cheeses'. I know Italians sometimes have cheese antipasti – in England, it feels like you're eating dinner back to front.

Angie's organic kale and rocket salad yielded up sliced green apple, cashew nuts and a tahini dressing, a terrific combination for the egregiously health-conscious. My Spanish octopus was contrastingly decadent. A fat, near-blackened octopus tendril curled round the plate like the alien in Alien, its burnt suckers like hideous vertebrae, its tail whorled and Satanic. It tasted fine, but its delicate flavour was overwhelmed by chorizo and (unannounced) capers. And why serve sauté potatoes in a starter course?

The octopus starter was £14, the kale salad £9. Were the Yanks, as we say in London, having a laugh? When we saw the price of the pasta dishes, we tried one out of curiosity. 'Silk handkerchiefs' is a white-meat-only (pork and veal) bolognese costing £19. "We make our own pasta," explained our perky Polish waitress, Marlena, "and some of the meat is flown in." Angie plumped for spaghetti alla vongole, featuring razor clams, courgettes, agretti and chilli. It cost £21 and was an unmitigated disaster.

I couldn't believe the gloopy, gummy, grey dome of grot that was plonked on Angie's plate. The pasta seemed to have been cooked in an oversalted, dishwatery veggie broth. The seafood, such as it was, didn't come on shells. This was like no vongole dish I'd ever seen; to charge £21 for it bordered on insult.

The manager, Jack, was charming, offered to replace it, and fast-tracked Scottish salmon with spring vegetables to our table. It was OK, but the moment of gustatory bliss had passed. My onglette steak was nicely done, tender and soft, sliced in the Tuscan tagliata style, drizzled with pesto and served with shaved fennel and fries: fine, though hardly demonstrating much cuisinal skill.

We shared a rhubarb and ginger tart, in which the rhubarb had been poached too long, coffee for which the phrase 'full-bodied' would not be accurate, and a slug of pudding wine, Moscato d'Asti, that was like Appletiser.

I wish I could welcome Mr De Lucie more heartily, but after trying his eccentrically paced, uncertainly flavoured and wildly overpriced food, I'd rather dine in the Café Rouge than Maison Rouge.

Food **
Ambience ***
Service ****

Red House, 2 Elystan Street London SW3 (020-7581 9139). About £150 for two with wine

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?